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Note from the editor: When Baseball Digest first started in 1944, the magazine gathered writers from all across the country to provide insight to the teams that they covered on a regular basis. This provided content and coverage that was in depth and more insightful than having national writers cover teams and players that they barely knew.
BaseballDigest.com aims to keep up that tradition. This season, we bring you a Report Card on each team in Major League Baseball from writers that cover that team directly. At the bottom of each write up, you will find the writer’s name, website, and any other pertinent information.
The Detroit Tigers were predicted to be part of a three-team race for the winable AL Central, along with the Twins and the White Sox. The Tigers stuck around and eventually overtook the surprising Indians, and never really looked back. An ALDS match-up against the Yankees went 5 games, and despite sloppy play and sloppy fields, the Tigers were victorious. The ALCS, however, was a disappointment for the Tigers and their faithful. The Rangers offense and pitching continued their hots ways, and shut down the Tigers in 6 games.
The rotation started off shaky. Phil Coke attempted to make the transition from reliever to starter, and went 1-7 with a 4.82 ERA for his efforts. Justin Verlander turned in a Cy Young-type (and possible MVP-type) year going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA while making his fourth All-Star team. Verlander was the unquestioned ace of the staff, seemingly sstopping losing streaks whenever he pitched. Max Scherzer realized some of his potential and turned in a year of improvement. Scherzer was up and down during the beginning of the season, but became a steady number 2 starter as the season wore on. Young Rick Porcello also notched another year of big league experience under his belt, and pitched very well in the playoffs. Porcello’s growing pains were felt at times, but overall he showed that he can pitch in the big leagues and has an exciting future at age 22. Brad Penny was mediocre as the number 5 pitcher, going 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA. Penny was very inconsistent, looking very good one start, and imploding the next.
The big boost to the rotation came in terms of a deadline deal with the Mariners for Doug Fister. Fister’s numbers with the Mariners were indicative of a good pitcher on a bad team. His time with Detroit over the last two months of the season reminded many Tiger fans of 1987′s Doyle Alexander, except Fister in under team control for a few more years, unlike Alexander who was a free agent at season’s end. This move was not only a boost to the rotation for the playoff push, but also locked in Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, and Porcello as four of the five pitchers of the rotation for a few years.
Jose Valverde was perfect going 49 for 49 in save opportunities during the regular season, a career high for him, while making his third All-Star team. Al Albuquerque provided a steady, calming presence on the mound until a concussion caused by an errant batting practice ball in Baltimore seemed to derail his season. Joaquin Benoit, the big bullpen free agent acquisition for the Tigers in the off-season started terribly, but he rebounded nicely to become a light-outs eighth inning setup man. Daniel Schlereth had good stats, but did not pitch in too many big situations. The team had high hopes for Ryan Perry, who ended up being sent to Toledo in an effort to build his confidence and give him some more work. Overall, the bullpen was not a liability for the Tigers, but was not a source of strength.
Alex Avila was a workhorse for the Tigers in 2011, catching in 132 games without a true backup. Avila responded to the lion share of work by becoming an All-Star starter and a Silver Slugger. Avila hit .295 while showing power with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. His defense was also fine, throwing out 32% of all base-stealers for fourth-best in MLB.
In 2010, Avila had Gerald Laird backing him up. In 2011, he had Victor Martinez…sort of. Martinez was given some catching duty early in the year, but when an ankle injury struck, the idea of Martinez as a backup was scrapped and Avila played every day. Omir Santos was a September call-up to give Avila a bit of a break, but only started 4 games in the month.
Miguel Cabrera manned first base, with Victor Martinez and Don Kelly providing little backup. Cabrera hit as usual, .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs while making his sixth All-Star team. Martinez also hit well over .300 and drove in over 100 RBIs primarily as a DH. Shortstop Johnny Peralta made everyone believe that the Tigers made a shrewd deal in acquiring him in July 2010 showing he could still hit, and could still play short, which was questioned in Cleveland. Peralta made his first All-Star team while hitting a very nice .299. The big question marks were third base and second base.
At third, Brandon Inge provide his usual solid defense but had very little offense. Inge was sent to Toledo to work on his swing when the Tigers swung the deal for Wilson Betemit. Betemit provided a bit of offense, but his defense left a lot to be desired. Even catcher Alex Avila started a game at third. Don Kelly got quite a few starts, and showed he could be a cheaper version of Inge, all glove, little bat.
Second base was a revolving door all season. Scott Sizemore started the season, but was traded to Oakland for David Purcey. Ryan Raburn was given the job, but showed below average defense and a lousy bat. Danny Worth and Will Rhymes were given spot starts, but neither one stuck. When Carlos Guillen finally came off of the DL, he was plugged in. That move started great, but ended in another Guillen injury. Utility man extraordinaire Ramon Santiago provided perhaps the steadiest influence at second, and finished the season as the starter.
Austin Jackson entered year 2 as the starting centerfielder for the Tigers, looking to improve on his 2010 campaign when he finished second in rookie of the year voting. Jackson’s offense took a dive, but his defense was highlight-reel worthy. Brennan Boesch continued his 2010 hot hitting before a thumb injury ended his season. Boesch showed that he deserves a starting position with both solid fielding and hitting. Magglio Ordonez signed a one-year deal before the season but had a terrible first half. Ordonez hit under .200 until a mid-season stint on the DL sidelined him. Once Mags came back, he seemed to hit like the Mags of old, except without the power. Ordonez hit near .300 for the second half of the season, but only 5 home runs all season.
Like Doug Fister for the pitching rotation, August trade acquisition Delmon Young provided a spark to the Tigers offense. His timely hitting helped solidify the left field spot, and after Boesch went down with his injury, Young became even more important.
The backup outfielder provided some speed off the bench, and with Ryan Raburn, a bit of power. Andy Dirks and Casper Wells were the backups until Wells was traded to Seattle in a the package for Fister. Don Kelly added some good defense, but offensively mediocre until the playoffs.
The defense, besides Jackson, was questionable to say the least. Raburn and eventually Young in left made Tigers fans hold their breath when a ball was hit that way. Magglio in right was always an adventure as well. Young’s fairly consistent hitting, and knack for coming up big overshadowed his lack of range in left.
Top Offensive Player
Miguel Cabrera was hands-down the best offensive player. The only player close to matching Cabrera was Victor Martinez, but Cabrera provided better power, and led the team in walks. Cabrera proved once again that he can hit, leading the American League in average and on-base percentage, and placing in the top 10 in home runs, RBIs, hits, runs, slugging, and OPS.
No question the top pitcher was Justin Verlander. Verlander turned in a year that will probably win him a Cy Young, and has him in the discussion for MVP. He would be the first Tigers Cy Young winner since Willie Hernandez in 1984; Willie also won the AL MVP award that year too, interestingly enough. Verlander was named to his fourth All-Star team, and had Tigers fans thanking Dave Dombrowski that the ace is locked up for a few more years. The stat that amazes most is that of Verlander’s 24 wins, 17 of those wins came after a Tigers loss.
Topics: Alcs, Alds, Baseball Digest, Cy Young, Detroit Tigers, Disappointment, Games Rotation, Growing Pains, Justin Verlander, League Experience, Losing Streaks, Major League Baseball, Max Scherzer, MVP, National Writers, Other Pertinent Information, Rick Porcello, Star Team, White Sox, White Tigers